It was our goal in The Wolves of St. Peter’s to accurately depict Rome in 1508. While we knew from the start it wasn’t like a Renaissance Fair, we were constantly shocked by just how brutal it was. While this was the Renaissance and Europe was pulling out of the Dark Ages, discovering science and reason, for most people it was still medieval. They had to endure discomfort, filth, ignorance, and violence.
What disturbed us most, however, were the women, whether rich or poor, whose grim existences came alive for us in our novel’s female characters: Juliet, sold off by her powerful family into an abusive marriage for a political alliance; Imperia, daughter of a Vatican choirmaster, fortunate in avoiding a life on the streets by running a high-end brothel staffed by courtesans like Calendula, a poor noblewoman with no other options; and Susanna, our favorite female character, desperately trying to raise a dowry by stealing from her employer, for whom she works as both maid and concubine. Our women often exhibited resourcefulness and courage, though given their circumstances they were not necessarily admirable or moral.
The children born in Renaissance Rome fared little better than their mothers. If they were fortunate, they lived past infancy, only to face lives of hard labor, scraping out a meager existence, hungry, fearful of plague, disease, famine, rape, and war, in a constant state of mourning and post-traumatic stress. In a world with no birth control, unwanted newborns were killed or left to die; our “detective” Francesco hears their pitiful cries in the outhouses that line the alley behind Michelangelo’s house.
Despite this, we didn’t want to write a book that was all gloom and doom, and we feel our love for our characters, both good and bad, injected humor and levity into the novel. After all, we’re not historians; we’re fiction writers who strive to spin a good yarn.
Almost every time we talk now as coauthors, we discuss how immensely grateful we are to be living in the 21st-century developed world: clean water, sewage systems, an abundance of safe food, antibiotics, immunizations, birth control, public safety, air conditioning, central heating, and on and on and on… (due to space constraints, we’ve cut this list down considerably).
We’re even grateful to pay taxes: money that goes toward healthcare, roads and transportation systems, public education, parks, and environmental protection, to mention a few. It doesn’t matter what your political stripe; we all benefit from these things.
Sadly, places like Congo, Syria, and Sudan, to name just three, still seem to be stuck in medieval times, waiting for basic human rights, let alone the comforts our modern age can provide. And while we realize that problems still exist in the developed world- income disparity, environmental issues, diseases awaiting cures, gun violence - we remain hopeful that if we can solve 16th century problems then surely we can solve 21st century ones too. We’ve certainly come a long way since Rome in 1508, baby.
This Thanksgiving season (both Canadian and American), as we delve into Renaissance Venice, where the second novel of the Francesco Angeli trilogy is set, we’ll be more thankful than ever for the privileges we enjoy while thinking of those still waiting for their renaissance, both politically and personally.
And here’s a recent review of The Wolves of St. Peter’s:
"The Wolves of St. Peter’s is a compelling mystery, full of twists and turns. Nothing – and no one – is what it seems. In what I consider the mark of a good mystery, the truth did not enter my mind as a possibility until the shortly before it was revealed. The characters are beautifully drawn. The historical detail is rich and, I suspect, more accurate than in most historical novels. The reader experiences the full spectrum of life in sixteenth century Rome – the pollution in the Tiber, the squalor of shacks being built willy-nilly against private homes (narrowing the streets and inconveniencing residents who can no longer use the front door), the stench of raw sewage. This is contrasted nicely by the splendour of the Vatican and elite of the city. The dichotomy in personality and lifestyle between the two artists, Michelangelo and Raphael, further emphasizes this contrast.... Very enjoyable."